King Creek Ridge & Canyon Loop

Fossils under foot and an accidental plunge were the jewels on the crown of this day that saw us hiking up King Creek Ridge, scrambling to connect it to King Creek Canyon, and then exploring the canyon itself.

Yesterday, we headed southeast into Kananaskis Country from Canmore to escape the smoke and haze from the Verdant Valley forest fire, west of Banff, that’s currently burning near here. Forest fires are both a blessing and a curse, and they can be a normal part of our summers here. One of the great things about Canada is that we have great swaths of forests and huge tracts of wilderness… along with some crazy storms. A recent bolt of lightning caused the fire in a back country wilderness section of Banff National Park that is burning near us now on the other side of the Banff townsite & Sunshine Ski Hill.

The Verdant Creek Fire from a National Parks update post.

That may seem alarming, but it’s really not. Fire is a very important part of the natural ecosystem, and an integral part of the health, vitality and vigour of our forests. The fire here, though deemed out of control, is being carefully managed.

Smoke from that fire, along with a few hundred that are burning in British Columbia (the province across the continental divide, to the west of us here in Alberta) blankets most of Alberta in a brown smudge haze that affects air quality and our ability to really exert ourselves outside on its bad days… thus our attempts to hike somewhere yesterday that wasn’t downwind from a fire. So there are definite downsides to this natural occurrence, but here, protected by the Continental Divide and our amazing firefighters and parks service people, we are not in harm’s way.

IMG_5473What I have always loved about a good ridge walk, is the way that you are up in the views relatively quickly, and you stay there for a long time. King Creek Ridge is a relatively short ridge, that connects three small peaks. It has outstanding views of the Opal Range the entire way, rising up dramatically from verdant green valleys that cloak their lower flanks like velvet.

On this day we were joined by our good friend, Pat and our son, Matt. The route we took involved a little bit of a scramble to connect two routes on our Gem Trek map, but it was well worth the effort it took, with a pay-off near the end that took us through King Creek Canyon from its headwaters (some spring meltwater trickles and a few underground springs) back down to our trailhead start.

Come along and see what it was like…

To gain the ridge trail, we had to walk back to the highway from the King Creek Canyon parking lot and take the little track you see that’s scratched into the bank across the stream here.
Pretty quickly we were heading up and up, ever up, to get to the ridge top itself.
The trail was steep, but at one point we were rewarded with tons of fossils at our feet! It was incredible! (As a side note, we go to the Burgess Shale next week with an interpreter, and I can’t wait!!)
The bodies of ancient sea creatures, it’s mind-boggling to think about the geological forces that turned these once living creatures into stone, and then thrust them almost upright in massive sheets of rock to form the ridges, slopes and peaks of the mountains we explore today!
There were industrious critters making the best of the alpine flowers. Can you see both the bee and the caterpillar working away on this thistle flower?
After about an hour of continuous uphill trudging, we gained the ridge top and caught our first views of the Opal Range across the way. See the way the steep mountain meadows look smooth as velvet, cloaking the sides of the mountains!?
That’s the Opal Range… here we are identifying the peaks by name.
For the next hour, we were in the views!
And what views they were! Here a couple passes us and heads back down the trail we took up to the first peak.
This is the trail as it heads up toward the first peak.
The ridge was fairly narrow here as it worked its way through a light forest. Those are the Kananaskis Lakes in the background and Mount Wintour with its strangely pointed peak.
The grass of its steep slopes was carpeted in little alpine flowers.
The ridge was not a long one, but it was a beauty!
Look carefully here and you’ll see the boys, up ahead.
We put the camera on the cairn of the first peak… talk about a spectacular setting!
The third peak is in the distance there, behind Matt (standing on the second).
The boys up ahead, almost at the third peak.
Heather… I think it’s my favourite alpine flower.
There was a wee scramble to get up to the top of the third peak… our lunch spot for the day.
The views up there were incredible!
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We chose a nice grassy spot for our picnic… don’t feel sorry for Seamus here… he may want in on some of our sandwich action, but he’s wolfed down his treats already!
It was a bit chilly up there, so I soon had on my puffy, my wool hat & mitts!
Of course, mitts are not the best choice for a scramble down from a peak!
Next came the challenging part. We had to connect the two trails with a scramble descent down a loose, steep slope between the second and third summits.

At this point, we had to check out two possible routes. Our guide books each recommended a different descent. We ended up going with the Copeland version as it looked the best.

It was loose and steep… so you pick good places to put your feet, anchored by plants, and go down, one step at a time.
This photo makes it look easy, but it was steep!
Steep and fun!
Matt said to me, “trust your feet, put your weight forward, and walk down the rock like a ramp.”
That’s easy for our mountain goat to say! There he is ahead at the top of the steep meadow.
So I tried it, with great trepidation.
Bill and I definitely lagged behind Mr. Youth and Mr. Experience, as we negotiated the crumbly rock of the descent.
But we soon caught up to them at the top of the meadow. Time to take off puffy coats as we’d worked up a sweat!
Mr. Experience and Mr. Youth lead the way, hollering for bears as they go.
Wouldn’t we see them, you ask? Well no… not necessarily as the plants and the bushes of the slope made for some great cover.
The slopes are not as smooth and velvety as they look from a distance! The bushes are thick and you have to almost wade through them as you go, which is tricky, because you can’t see your footing.
Finally we were at the beginning of King Creek, just the tiniest trickle at this point, feeding all of that dense willow growth.
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Looking up the other side of the valley… the views were phenomenal!
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We worked our way through spring runoff and avalanche debris with stunning scenery all around us.
At first the creek bed was mostly dry.
And then it was a beautiful mountain creek.
We had to zig zag our way, crossing the creek too many times to count… “innumerable times,” one of our guidebooks said! Ha! I’ll second that!
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We carefully worked our way along with the best guide going: the creek itself.
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Here’s a view back up the creek from the way we’d come… sometimes on the rocks, and sometimes following animal tracks through the forest.
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Dense forest, thick moss, lots of boulders and debris made for excellent scrambling fun!
With great big boulders like giant stepping stones, we crossed the stream back and forth many times, especially as the rock walls formed ominous towers and hemmed us in, making us go from one side to the other as we entered the canyon itself.
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And it was a massive canyon! Look ahead at Matt & Pat there for perspective.
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There were log jams to negotiate…
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… and massive walls to look up, way up, for future climbing potential (Matt, Pat & Bill are all avid rock climbers… here they scan the area for potential.)
As we continued, the walls got taller as the canyon got narrower. It was so fun scrambling through here…
… until Bill fell right into the ice cold meltwater of the creek! Here he asks Matt to wring out his coat while he quickly changes… and Matt, good son that he is, looks on, laughing.
How in the world do trees grow on slopes like that!?
Seamus did his best to stay dry, following his pack across logs, rather than getting his toes wet!
And acrobat that he is, Mr. Dainty Paws has no trouble!
Even along stepping stones beside a cliff in a tight space like this, his paws stayed dry!
After an hour or so, we were through the canyon, Bill had sort of dried off, though he’s still wearing his puffy for warmth, and we were nearing the trailhead.
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Back at the trailhead… there’s nothing like a crag beer (even if it’s a Radler) at the end of a long hike!

Distance: somewhere between 7km and 9.2km

Elevation Gain: approximately 730m

Guidebooks used: Gillean Daffern’s Kananaskis Trail Guide Volume 1, p. 129-133 and the Copeand’s Where Locals Hike in the Canadian Rockies, p. 105-109

Click here for more terrific hikes in Kananaskis Country (Canmore Area). And check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.

12 Comments on “King Creek Ridge & Canyon Loop

  1. Nature is truly fascinating. The delicate balance of life and death is a carefully measured process. Getting it right is key to survival. I must admit, those clouds of smoke look scary. At first glance, I thought you must have hiked an active volcano! 🙂 Your trails are always fantastic, Sheri!

    Liked by 1 person

      • My pleasure. Thank you also for your interest in my ramblings. You may have worked out (will have if you read one of my introductory pages) that I am transferring a load of entries from a now defunct travel site to this blog. This explains the large number of entries on some days .. I could not write this fast….. Please forgive the quantity of entries.. noting that this will drop to 2-3 per week but not for some months yet. You will see my entries are a mix of travel and history both of which I am very interested in. In the next week Ill be moving away from the military stuff ..
        Keep up the great work on your blog too 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I completely agree that fresh fires are a crucial element in the preservation and restoration of wilderness, and it’s actually majestic to walk through a freshly cleared expanse to witness previously hidden vistas. However, man-made fires, either through arson or neglect, were a big cause of forest fires over the past few years in the states. And THAT makes me grouchy.

    Glad you all were able to able to enjoy an invigorating trek through King’s Creek though. Looks wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a beautiful hike, Sheri. It has so many components–ridge walk, creek crossing, boulder scrambling. Fun for me to read along and leave the tough work for all of you to do.

    Seeing Matt in his trainers going through a terrain like this with ease reminded me of a young couple on the Nualolo Trail in Kauai who breezed through muddy slopes with no trouble while we were struggling to stay upright. Oh well.


  4. Wow, what a great hike… to experience all that in under 10km is simply fantastic! Another for the list!

    Liked by 1 person

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